Monthly Report: May 2016 Albums
1. Chance The Rapper - Coloring Book
Acid Rap is one of those records that I didn't know what to make of at first, but then it slowly got really deep under my skin. So it feels impossible to have that kind of relationship with Coloring Book, which I expected to be great, and is, or even Surf, which had its own unpredictable element but ended up being a pretty great star vehicle for Chance despite its intentions. But Chance is operating with such a different palette of sounds and emotions than most of the rest of rap right now that whatever he does just feels so essential. Right now "All Night" and "Same Drugs" are the ones that really stand out and give me that feeling that only Chance does so well now, that giddy rush of big-hearted exalted gratitude for life, the thing that had me playing "Sunday Candy" with a newborn on my lap so many times last year. Here's my running Spotify playlist of 2016 albums I've been listening to, although only like 4 of the albums in this post are on Spotify.
2. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
I've always regarded Radiohead as mere mortals with a highly fallible catalog, so I'm not reaching for the moon and stars by saying that this is their best album in a long time and certainly way better than In Rainbows. But really, it just feels present and lively in a way that their later albums rarely have, like they have a lot fewer "no ______" aesthetic rules posted on the walls of the studio than they usually do. The "Desert Island Disk" and "Ful Stop" section in particular just sound gorgeous, Phil Selway is as always a bore and Thom Yorke continues to shrink away from doing anything interesting or unexpected with his once fascinating voice, but the guitars and strings and atmospherics are beautiful.
3. The Posies - Solid States
I adore The Posies, I worship them like other people worship Radiohead, I really do, and it was fun to dive into their deep cuts recently. Their later albums always take a while to grow on me, I think because they're still really stretching their legs and trying new things, and there's a lot of lyrical and musical territory on this record that there was no hint of in their '90s records. While the verbose, social commentary Elvis Costello vibe of some of their lyrics now can sometimes feel like an odd fit, it's resulted in some really surprising and great songs like "Squirrel vs Snake." And while the move away from guitar/bass/drums into piano, synths and drum machines that dominate the second half of Solid States doesn't always work, there's a high level of songcraft carrying it. Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow are one of my favorite songwriting partnerships, and it's really gratifying to hear them still challenging each other after nearly 30 years of collaborating.
4. Corinne Bailey Rae - The Heart Speaks In Whispers
It's been about a decade since Corinne Bailey Rae's initial big splash of love from the Grammys and VH1, and 6 years since her underperforming sophomore album. And I don't know if she just finally started to make interesting music or if I unfairly dismissed her as boring before, but this record is pretty nice. A few tracks were made with members of KING, but a lot of the best tracks weren't, and it really just has this lovely languid bittersweet aesthetic that works well with her strange little voice.
5. Young Dro & Zaytoven - Boot Me Up
It's cool to hear these guys link up for an entire mixtape, because Young Dro's recent Zaytoven-produced single "Ugh" was great, and they're both kind of these Atlanta journeyman figures who've been around for over a decade but have been building new momentum lately. Dro just had "We In Da City," his biggest song in a long time, and Zay had Future's Beast Mode last year, and did the current 2 Chainz hit and Gucci is back and in the studio with him. Dro dropped another mixtape a week after this one, Phoenix, that's also pretty good, but Boot Me Up is entirely produced by Zaytoven and is just a lot more consistent and more fun, they have a real chemistry, Dro's word drunk punchlines are a good match for Zay's bright trebly synths.
6. Ro James - El Dorado
Ro James co-wrote one of my favorite Miguel songs, "Use Me," and the languid guitar-driven grooves of Miguel's last couple albums is a better indicator of what El Dorado sounds like than his Willie Hutch-sampling single "Permission." I don't love the guy's voice and some songs explore his sound better than others, but "Already Knew That" and "New Religion" are killer and I think this album could really grow on me.
7. Jumbled - Wish It Was Longer
In my years of covering Baltimore's rap underground and Baltimore's rock underground, there's not a lot of people with a foot in both scenes, but John is a good guy I've gotten to know a little who plays drums in bands (I've played a few shows with his band Soft Peaks) and produces and DJs hip hop as Jumbled and with the group Napalm Def. Wish It Was Longer is, true to its title, a brief little record where the tracks run an average of 2 minutes, with occasional guest vocals by local people like Height, UllNevaNo, and Berko Lover from So Nice Yesterday, along with a whole library of odd little samples taking the lead on the instrumental tracks, really a fun listen.
8. The Mercury Program - New Myths EP
About 15 years ago, my friend Stephen from Florida got into this instrumental band that he was friends with, The Mercury Program, and I have fond memories of seeing them at the old Ottobar, and am happy to see that they're still occasionally making music today. New Myths, their first record in a while, is an EP, which is kinda fitting since their best record, 2001's All The Suits Began To Fall Off, was also an EP. Their sound is pretty much the same as it ever way, with vibraphones and knotty polyrhythmic grooves, but I really love the texture of the drums on here, "Dance Pact" is one of the best tracks they've ever done.
9. Boosie Badazz - Bleek Mode (Thug In Peace Lil Bleek)
We're now five months into Boosie's run of releasing an album every month of 2016, and other than April's interesting but hardly essential C-Murder collab album, he's generally been at the top of his game and plumbing new emotional depths with each release. This isn't an entire album about his dead friend, but that definitely permeates the overall vibe of the record, which is one of the darker ones out of a run that included an album recorded directly after a cancer diagnosis. Even recording high volumes of music has never driven Boosie to experiment much with his sound, but "Long Road" is the kind of odd outlier that I wouldn't mind hearing him indulge in more often. Webbie also released Savage Life V in May and there's 3 good Boosie features on there.
10. Brooks Long & The Mad Dog No Good - Mannish Boys
Brooks Long is a soul singer who's been gigging around Baltimore and releasing singles and EPs for a few years now, we included him on a compilation I helped assemble in 2013. And Mannish Boys is his long-awaited full-length debut, featuring new songs and re-recordings of stuff from the old records and guest appearances from other local guys like Bosley and Lafayette Gilchrist. Brooks and his band mine a gritty old school R&B sound but there's a lot of funny, creative layers to the lyrics and it kinda feels like they're remaking that aesthetic into something of their own instead of just being stuck in a retro niche.
Worst Album of the Month: Post Malone - August 26th
If Post Malone was just another mediocre white crossover rapper in the now familiar tradition, he'd be easy enough to ignore. But the fact that this guy's career continues to thrive after he got caught saying the N-word, and he basically just rap-sings cliches in a terrible "turn around and die" voice, has made me absolutely loathe this piece of shit. I guess it was nice that at least he released this tape the same day as Coloring Book and it basically flew under the radar, though. I found myself at least enjoying the Jeremih and 2 Chainz features and finding parts of this tape passable until I got to the horrific track where he sings over a karaoke version of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams."